A Scandalous God Matthew 22:1-14

Have you ever thought of the Gospel as something that is scandalous? Normally, we call the Gospel “Good News.” It is because of what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection. The Gospel is for us, salvation. So how can something that is so good for us be a scandal? It is scandalous for us to hear because God doesn’t follow our understanding of value, worth or importance. Instead, the Gospel destroys our false claims.

A king is throwing a wedding party (a symbol for salvation) for his son. Nobody responds. A second invitation is sent out but some of the invited guests were too busy with the farm or their business. They were too busy doing the things which we define as bestowing worth to a person. The king’s invitation is what graciously declared their importance in the kingdom but they refused. The other invited guests abused and killed the king’s messengers. They violently snubbed the king’s gracious invite. So what does a king do to those who snub his kindness? Naturally, he destroys them.

There needs to be a word of caution given here. If we aren’t careful, we end up taking one of Jesus’ parables about God’s kingdom and make them about supporting our claims for worthiness and power. The actions of the king can be used to justify violence (in God’s name) and anti-Semitic beliefs. Jesus was using this parable to illustrate the nature of God’s kingdom. He wasn’t reducing God to a tyrannical human king seeking vengeance for being snubbed.

Since none of the first invitees were willing to attend the party, the king sent out more servants to invite who ever they could find, good or bad. In the end, these folk had a valued place in the kingdom which exceeded those busy with farm, business or direct opposition could never attain. The kingdom of God is about and will always be about grace.

A curious point was made about a guest present at the party without a wedding robe. When asked, the guest gave no answer to why they were at the party and were then thrown out. The person didn’t comprehend the kindness and grace given by the king’s invitation.

So what do we do with this parable? We live in a crucial time when we are divided and the value of human worth is being debated. Black Lives Matter, immigration policy, suburb vs. inner city, rich vs. poor are all being played out as to who is worthy and who is not to be a part of this country and world. The violence being lived out today and as shown in the parable is how we choose to define our own value and worth.

Jesus told this parable as a way of describing the kingdom of God. We are important not because of our wealth or stubborn ideology. Value in the kingdom of God comes by God’s invitation. The invitation is sent out to all people. Therefore, all are the same.

So will we finally get this through our heads? Will we abandon our efforts to define ourselves by tyrannical force? Are we really going to let ourselves be on the outside looking in at the salvation God has invited us to in Christ? Or, are we going to let God be the one who defines us by that gracious and wonderful invitation to salvation?


Where Your Treasure Is Luke 12:32-40

This last week has been a tough week.  There were the shootings in El Paso and Dayton.  Cries are going up to bring an end to this senseless loss of life that is becoming too ordinary.  The month of July was the warmest recorded.  Some deny that our activity is having any affect on climate while scientists are warning that this is only the start with much worse to come in the future.  The hate-filled words that divide this country will not grow silent.  This last week has been rough.

The message from the Scripture reading is really filled with hope with Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”  It is God’s good pleasure to give us his rule.  Note that it is not God’s good pleasure to support our bias, our prejudice, our hate, our violence, our greed, our self-serving nature, etc.  God’s good pleasure is to bring about his rule which will allow life and all of creation to flourish.  It may be God’s good pleasure to bring his kingdom but Jesus on the cross is our opinion regarding God’s kingdom.  However, Jesus’ resurrection is God’s relentless work to bring life instead.  So the hope-filled message is to not be afraid.  The invitation is to invest ourselves in the kingdom which does bring life.

Jesus gives this message of hope with a couple points.  He does this with the statement to sell our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.  The result is to have a treasure in heaven that won’t be taken away.  He is inviting us to divest ourselves from the ways of the world that create poverty in the first place.  We are to invest ourselves in the ways of God’s rule which bring life.  This won’t be taken away from us.

The second point is one that we get backwards.  Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  What we want to say is, “Where my heart is, there my treasure will go.”  The problem is that our heart is not focused on God’s kingdom.  Jesus was correct: the heart follows where the treasure is invested.  If we invest what we treasure to alleviate poverty, that is where our heart will be.  If we invest what we treasure in caring for creation, that is where our heart will be.  If we invest what we treasure in reducing the hate, that is where our heart will be.  If we invest what we treasure in these things of the kingdom, then our hearts will be focused on God’s kingdom of life which is God’s good pleasure to give.

The rest of the Scripture reading is about being watchful and ready for Christ’s return to bring the fullness of God’s kingdom.  How will we be ready?  Invest the things we treasure in the reign of God now and our hearts will be ready.

This has been a rough week.  Remember Jesus words of hope, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”


Preparing for death John 12:1-8

The season of Lent is coming to a close and we know what that means, the cross is next on the way to Easter morning.  As much as we want to jump ahead to the excitement of Easter, the cross must first be faced.  The reading for this coming Sunday is setting up what Jesus will soon be facing and that is the cross.  The dichotomy of death and life can’t be ignored.

Jesus is at the home of Lazarus whom he had restored to life from death.  Immediately after this the entire Sanhedrin was called together to deal with the problem of Jesus going around doing miraculous things.  If Jesus were allowed to go around showing signs of the Kingdom of Heaven the Romans will come and take away all they have worked to accomplish.  Caiaphas declared that it would better for one man to die than for the nation they have labored to create perish.

Following the above reading, the chief priests were concerned about the crowds gathering around Lazarus’ house.  They began to plan Jesus’ death and Lazarus’ death too.  Hey, do you really want visual proof of life rising out of death to be seen!  People would want this and reject the power structures at play.  Better kill off life so that the old ways of death can be maintained.  How foolish we are.  How obvious our sin and how oblivious we are to recognize it.

At Lazarus’ house, Mary takes out fragrant oil to anoint Jesus for his burial.  A humble act and loving act as she uses her hair to wipe the perfume over his feet.  Judas Iscariot complains that this expensive perfume could be sold and the proceeds given to the poor.  He doesn’t understand what is happening.

As long as Jesus is present, the Kingdom of Heaven is present.  Jesus will soon be crucified and raised from the dead.  Then he will ascend in glory.  We wait for the day when he returns and the Kingdom is fully established.  Until then, we contend with the powers that be.  The powers that emphasize killing and death to keep control.  The powers that leave us with a privileged few and poverty for the rest.

The season of Lent is drawing to its end and the cross is coming sharper into focus.  This is a good time to be reminded of the powers that be and our complicity in their efforts that result in death and poverty.  This is also a good time to remember the Kingdom of Heaven and how we can be a witness to its life giving ways.


Beware the Lie Luke 4:1-13

Temptation is often treated like a joke.  We joke about the temptation of the box of jelly donuts a co-worker brings to the office and proudly announce we kept to our diet.  We make light of the reduced price of an article of clothing on Amazon and how we resisted the temptation to buy it.  We keep the level of our engagement with temptation at a superficial level.  If we probe any deeper, we discover that temptation is really about the lie.  If we probe any deeper, we see how easily we are taken in by it.

Lying is so much a part of our culture right now and we are having a hard time facing that reality.  In the world of politics, one lie is followed by another which is then countered by a stretching of the truth on the other side of the spectrum.  When a corporation is caught in questionable behavior, spin is applied to deflect the challenge and denial of responsibility.  Temptation is to fall for the distortion of the truth, the lie.

The Spirit is leading Jesus into the wilderness where the devil will have at him.  After, forty days of eating nothing Jesus was famished and at his most vulnerable.  The devil began the lies.  What is interesting is that Jesus knew his identity.  The devil knew who Jesus was too.  Yet, the lies began.

The first was about making bread out of rocks.  The lie was about independence from God the Father.  Jesus knew his oneness with the Father.  He was not going to declare that he was separate.  Jesus didn’t go for the lie.   If only we knew better than to declare our independence and face the consequences.  This is our sin.

The second was about getting all the kingdoms of the world by simply giving adoration to the devil.  Question, when did God cede his rights over the world to the devil?  This is the lie.  With the Spirit at his side, Jesus would have nothing to do with the lie.  How often have we bought the lie of worshiping that which has nothing to give in return?

The third lie was to doubt the Father’s life sustaining presence and jump off a building.  The devil even used Scripture to support the test.  Jesus knew well enough the lie of doubt the devil was trying to instill.  He wouldn’t test the Father’s care.

The testing was done for now.  The devil would try his best at future opportunities.  With the Spirit at his side, Jesus would face more lies the devil would throw at him.  Thankfully, he remained true.  This is how and why we can call him Savior and Lord.

Temptation is much more than resisting a piece of chocolate.  Temptation is all about the lies that come each day.  The lies are many.  They work to deny what Scripture says is true about life and loyalties and worship and identity and so on.  I can only wish that I and we as a whole were far better at seeing the lies for what they are… quit participating in them.


A Jesus Kind of Radical Luke 6:27-38

If you wanted to be a radical that really wanted to change things, whether it be in your church or community or even the world, what steps would you begin to take?

Would you start a blog to refute ‘fake news’ or what you consider to be ‘fake news?’

Would you grab a sign and join in with others to form a protest march?

Would you become politically active to support the candidates that share your views of how the world should function?

Jesus gave some radical ideas from this reading out of Luke.  The type of ideas that are guaranteed to get push back.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”  But if we do this, who will we hate?  Who will we demonize and use to scare others into following our political views?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  This is a wimpy idea.  How are we ever going to end up on top if we are looking out for the benefit of others?

Jesus said, “Do not judge.”  This is ridiculous.  How are we ever going to feel superior to others if we don’t judge them as lesser?  How can we justify the lousy ways we treat others if we don’t first judge them worthy of such treatment?  How can we be confident of our salvation if we don’t judge other certain for damnation?

Jesus’ words in Luke seem so ridiculous.  They are too far out on the fringe.  They are too radical to be taken seriously in the world and how it works.  This is precisely the point.  Jesus is speaking about the reign and the coming rule of the kingdom of God.  The ways of God require the endless cycle of hate and abuse and manipulation, etc come to an end.  Jesus didn’t come to bless what we bless but came to redeem and make all things new in the resurrection.

So Jesus is inviting us to be radicals for the kingdom of God.  It sounds impossible but he isn’t let us off the hook.  If we long and hunger for the reign of God to be over us, then we need to be Jesus kind of radicals.  In the end we are promised that life will be known that is truly overflowing.  The measure of life we grant to others is the measure of life we’ll receive in return.


Blessings and Woes Luke 6:17-26

When talking about being blessed, what comes to mind?  Don’t we usually default to what is normally defined by blessing in the world?  Normally, blessing involves having big numbers in the checking account at the bank.  Blessing is being free from much of life’s trials and struggles – life goes easy.  Blessings are what we call all of our friends and family.  This is what we consider being blessed.

So we come to the words of Jesus and we are confused because he says just the opposite.  He is teaching that blessed are the poor, those who mourn and weep as well as those persecuted because of him.  Furthermore, Jesus announces ‘woes’ to those who are rich, happy and regarded with a good reputation by lots of people. Jesus is obviously out of sync with what the world values and we so often define as being the blessed by  God.

This reading is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.  What makes Luke’s version different is that Jesus comes down to the level plane.  He isn’t sitting like a teacher on a hill as a teacher did instructing the students.  He came down to the level plane to share with us in the flesh.  He came down to stare directly face to face with our humanity and our reality.  The good news of the incarnation is that God has not abandoned us in our sin and death but has come to us in Christ Jesus to bring us salvation and the resurrection.

What is important to notice is that Jesus didn’t speak these Beatitudes to the crowds amazed by the healing and casting out of their demons.  Jesus was looking at the disciples.  He was directing these words to the church.  The people of the kingdom.  Those who take to heart his ministry which he announced as good news to the poor and release to the captives and of the year of the Lord’s favor which emphasized forgiveness of debts and a rebooting of economic structures.  Blessed are those concerned with the kingdom’s presence.

Blessed are the poor for they will know the fullness of the kingdom.

Blessed are those who mourn and weep over the lies and killing and race baiting and hate etc. because they long for the kingdom to be realized by all.

Blessed are those who speak like the prophet of old to the kings of old of the injustice and the trampling of the poor that defined their rule.

Blessed are those devoted to the kingdom.  Blessed are those longing for the salvation that only Christ brings.  Blessed are those seeking the new life of Christ’s resurrection to be known by all of creation.

Have a blessed day.


A New Way Luke 5:1-11

Imagine a struggling company invites a consultant to come and make recommendations of what they could do better.  After a lengthy and expensive analysis, the consultant’s advice is to just keep doing the same things.  You can only guess at the complaints leveled like:  “We’ve been doing that same thing for a long time and gotten no where.  Don’t you have any new ideas?”

“We’ve been doing that same thing all night and caught nothing,” was Simon’s response to Jesus’ instructions of putting the nets down in the deep water.  Simon along with James and John were professional fishermen.  This was their business.  It was how they made a living.  So when Jesus recommended putting the nets down again, this was just doing the same old hoping for different results.  This time was different.  The nets were so full of fish that both boats were at the point of sinking.  Peter fell to his knees confessing his sin and calling Jesus as Lord.  Jesus gave Simon a new purpose which was to catch people for the kingdom of God.

Jesus had been teaching about the good news of the kingdom of God.  Now was a perfect time for this to be shown in all its net bursting fulness.  We in the church could learn from this as well.  We have been casting nets in our surrounding communities with nets full and with nets empty.  We search for marketing techniques and business models that will guarantee a full house every Sunday.  Are we merely hauling people in the doors or are we bringing people into the kingdom of God?  There is a difference.

Jesus announced his ministry would be good news for the poor and for the oppressed to be set free and for a reversal of economic systems that forever keep the poor in poverty.  This is the good news of the kingdom of God and marks a striking contrast between caught up into the kingdom and being only a number.

Jesus as Lord is the bringer of the kingdom and as the living Word the voice to let down the nets.  May we know the difference.